My own fingers are practically bleeding from all the times I've distinguished between Animal Rights and Animal Welfare. It's really nice when somebody gets it exactly right. This is from yesterday:
Apart from what you read on their editorial and opinion pages, newspapers report facts. Those facts are conveyed principally through words. Therefore, newspapers have a special obligation to use words with precision.
The Post-Dispatch recently ran a story that described People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as an "animal welfare" organization. I think that zoo professionals and, for that matter, representatives of PETA would disagree vehemently with the characterization.
PETA is an animal rights organization, not an animal welfare organization. There's a big difference.
The philosophy of animal rights says, in essence, that animals have the same rights as humans: For example, we don't keep other humans as slaves, so we shouldn't keep dogs as pets, and zoos should not confine exotic animals that are threatened with extinction. All medical testing on animals should be banned. Because we don't kill and eat human beings or use human byproducts for food, we should ban the consumption of all meat and other animal products, including milk and eggs. We don't use human hides for clothing, so we should not use leather for shoes, fur for coats or even the silk from silk worms for blouses.
There are really two parts to this: there is the "we should not" part — the prohibitions, if you will — that characterize the passive AR lifestyle that dictates what each true believer should not do.
But there is the active, affirmative side, too — the half of the "ideology" that dictates positions people should take on various social issues involving animals, and how those social issues should be approached. The "active" limb of AR has as it's goal nothing less than radical societal change. For some, the ideology is so clear and the call so compelling that they are moved to violence.
After all, if each life is equally valuable, then morality becomes a simple matter of arithmetic. If by killing a few you can save many, you do it. If "the few" happen to be scientists, and "the many" happen to be animals, then you openly advocate assassination. Each life — that of an animal and that of a human — is equally valuable.
In the AR world, almost anything is justifiable in the name of "the animals" and in pursuit of a cruelty-free world — however cruel any given action might be to an individual human. If you don't believe me, read this post of mine and see how the core belief of AR re-orients one's perspective on life, action and violence, and observe for yourself the logic of the slippery slope in action. It should tie a lot together.
Back to the article.
Animal welfare organizations, including reputable zoos like ours, are deeply concerned with the physiological and psychological health and well-being of animals, but they also are concerned with the welfare of animals in the wild. Animal rights adherents contend, in sharp contrast, that as long as animals are in the wild, their rights are not being violated by humans.
Yes — and as far as I know, the AR luminaries have never attempted to make a persuasive case for why the assumptions underlying their schemes of apportioning rights should trump more traditional ones. At best, the AR people can point out that animals can have rights if humans should decide as much — but "can" and "should" are two entirely different issues: we can dump raw sewage into drinking water, but should we do so?
The second profound difference between an animal welfare group such as the St. Louis Zoo and an animal rights group such as PETA is that zoos care about the fate of entire species, whereas PETA focuses on individual animals. This allows them to argue that it is better for a species to become extinct than for individual members of that species to be preserved in zoos.
For animal welfare groups, extinction is the ultimate cruelty, and it is no small irony that in the majority of cases, animals go extinct because of the direct actions of humans. Animal rights groups, therefore, should be concerned with extinction in the wild. Tragically, they are not.
Bingo! He nails it. For AR people the moral unit is the individual animal, not the species or a habitat. It is this belief that AR people violate right and left, demonstrating the incoherence of their AR "ideology." If the individual animal is the moral unit, how can PeTA kill so many animals so easily, and how can PeTA and other AR groups advocate that animals be spayed and neutered, a practice that not only sterilizes them, but also subjects them to the hazards of surgery, denies them the pleasures of sexual experience, alters their natural behavior towards docility (removal of hormones) and deprives them of the pleasures of bearing and rearing offspring?
Why is this not a violation of the Animal Rights Core principle?
If PeTA and other AR people really believe in the overarching principle that each individual life, animal and human alike, is in the end equally valuable, would the AR crowd be for forced sterilization of humans? Would they support snuffing humans simply because they were inconvenient or their care and keeping is expensive?
Why not? If an animal life and a human life are equally valuable, and you're willing to sterilize and kill animals, where is the ideological prohibition against doing the same to humans?
I think that animal rights groups and animal welfare groups both care about animals, but they represent two very different philosophies. If you are a supporter of PETA, you support an animal rights group that does not care about the fate of animals in the wild and does nothing to stop the loss of species worldwide. If you are a supporter of the St. Louis Zoo, you support an animal welfare organization that provides outstanding care for animals in the Zoo and devotes enormous amounts of time, energy, expertise and money to saving wild things in wild places.
By the way, unless you are a vegan, don't own a pet, wear only plastic shoes and are willing to forego insulin if you ever become diabetic, you either do not embrace the real animal rights philosophy or you are a hypocrite.
I, for one, hope that people never consider PETA an animal welfare organization. It most certainly is not.
The author of this fine piece was Jeffrey P. Bonner, president and chief executive of the St. Louis Zoo. A thousand "thank yous" to you, sir.
Thanks to Vicci A., who obviously also "gets it."
UPDATED 6/30/2005 for style, clarity and completeness.